You’ve heard the story before. A man in his fifties wakes up. He reads the paper while drinking his morning coffee. Has breakfast with his wife. They talk about the children, grandkids, how he needs to get a new blade for the lawnmower today and about next month’s vacation that they have been planning for the past twenty-five years. It’s an ordinary day. He kisses his wife and sets out on his morning jog. Only this time, he doesn’t come back. His neighbor finds him a block away, dead from a heart attack. Later that evening, his wife relates to the family how it was completely unexpected. He was in good shape and his heart health seemed fine. She wonders aloud how such an ordinary day could become the day that she lost the father of her children and partner of thirty-five years.
Everyone knows someone who died, seemingly out of the blue, from a heart attack. The startling death of beloved journalist, Tim Russert, who died from a heart attack at the age of 58, sent a quiver of terror down the spines of most middle-aged men. Although it is the silent fear of men, heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States. Tim Russert’s death had everyone wondering: could that happen to me?
It’s a justifiable fear as the first symptom of a heart disease is often a heart attack, giving no advance warning. This year, 750,000 Americans will die of a heart attack. More than 47 percent of these deaths occur before emergency help arrives. Annually, 1.2 million Americans will have a new or recurrent heart attack and 6 million hospitalizations occur each year due to cardiovascular disease. The annual price tag of health care, medications and lost productivity due to cardiovascular disease has reached a total of $475 billion.
Ask the average American what they believe is the cause of heart disease and you will most likely uncover the typical answers: diet, high cholesterol, heredity and smoking. While these all play their part in heart disease, it’s important to note that one-third of those who had heart attacks did not have the usual risk factors such as high cholesterol or a family history of heart disease. To add, only 40 percent of this same population had high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Certainly diet, genetics and smoking play a role in heart disease, but according to the statistics, we’re missing an underlying piece of the heart disease puzzle.
Many feel helpless to heart disease. It runs in their families and generation after generation have already succumbed to cardiovascular disease. Their parents never made it past the age of the 50 and many never knew their grandparents, also victims of heart disease. Their thinking is that it’s only a matter of time – Russian roulette after they reach 50.
This same population is primed to fall prey to the marketing of cholesterol lowering drugs. The advertisements are all over TV, magazines and newspapers. Doctors pass out statin drugs to people over the age of 45 as if it were candy. The resulting behavior for many is that they take their statin drug religiously and completely ignore diet and exercise. Again, the message sent out by mainstream medicine is that a pill can fix all of your problems. I hate to burst your bubble, but if all you are doing for your heart health is taking a cholesterol lowering drug each day, you’re doing yourself and your family an enormous disservice.
The first step to battling heart disease begins with challenging our perception of what causes heart disease. As we will discuss, aiming our guns at cholesterol is like shooting the messenger. We’ve got it all wrong. If anything, this month’s focus will give you hope and encourage you that despite your family history of heart disease, you don’t have to become another victim of a heart attack. We need to begin to ask questions that get to the underlying cause of cardiovascular disease. Behind your family history of heart disease may lie something else that runs in the family: hypothyroidism.
Before we delve further into the connection between heart disease and hypothyroidism, we need to put down a little groundwork. Tomorrow, let’s begin discussing the causes of heart disease by taking a closer look at mainstream medicine’s favorite heart disease villain: cholesterol.